After the girls had, two days ago, overdosed on retail therapy, and I had walked my pins to stumps exploring the River Weaver, it was time to absorb some more Cheshire history. And so off we set, into previously uncharted territory. Our destination, Quarry Bank Mill.
Quarry Bank Mill (also known as Styal Mill) in Styal, Cheshire, is apparently, one of the best preserved textile mills of the Industrial Revolution. Built in 1784, it is now a museum of the cotton industry. The mill was established by Samuel Greg and was notable for the innovative approach to labour relations. This was largely as a result of the work of Greg’s wife, Hannah Lightbody.
On entry to the mill you are guided through the wool/cotton making process, entering on the ground floor. The various informational boards lead you, initially, up to the top floor. This is probably a good thing as by the end of the tour, on weary legs, you exit at ground level, not far from the cafe. Thankfully there is a lift to get you to the top.
As one explores there are plenty of information boards which enable you to understand the environmental and the social changes that were happening at the time. Lots of examples of the typical “contracts of employment” and apprentice indentures. The mill employed men, women and children. Men, then as now, were typically paid more than women doing the same jobs. Nothing changes.
Perhaps, one of the most significant events of the time was Peterloo …..
The Peterloo Massacre took place at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, England, on 16 August 1819, when cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.
The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 had resulted in periods of famine and chronic unemployment, exacerbated by the introduction of the first of the Corn Laws. By the beginning of 1819, the pressure generated by poor economic conditions, coupled with the relative lack of suffrage in Northern England, had enhanced the appeal of political radicalism. In response, the Manchester Patriotic Union, a group agitating for parliamentary reform, organised a demonstration to be addressed by the well-known radical orator Henry Hunt.
Shortly after the meeting began, local magistrates called on the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry to arrest Hunt and several others on the hustings with him. The Yeomanry charged into the crowd, knocking down a woman and killing a child, and finally apprehending Hunt. The 15th Hussars were then summoned by the magistrate, Mr Hulton, to disperse the crowd. They charged with sabres drawn, and in the ensuing confusion, 18 people were killed and 400–700 were injured. The massacre was given the name Peterloo in an ironic comparison to the Battle of Waterloo, which had taken place four years earlier.